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Friday, June 05, 2015

Finally! Obama has a diplomatic achievement

President Hussein Obama finally has a diplomatic achievement to which he can point. But it's not the one he was hoping for. The picture at the top is a photo of a handshake between incoming Director General of Israel's Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold (who has a kipa on his head and is at left) and Anwar Majed Eshki, a retired Saudi general and ex-adviser to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. And there's much more to it than a handshake, and it's been going on for a year and a half. Eli Lake reports.
Since the beginning of 2014, representatives from Israel and Saudi Arabia have had five secret meetings to discuss a common foe, Iran. On Thursday, the two countries came out of the closet by revealing this covert diplomacy at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
It was not a typical Washington think-tank event. No questions were taken from the audience. After an introduction, there was a speech in Arabic from Anwar Majed Eshki, a retired Saudi general and ex-adviser to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Then Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations who is slotted to be the next director general of Israel's foreign ministry, gave a speech in English.
While these men represent countries that have been historic enemies, their message was identical: Iran is trying to take over the Middle East and it must be stopped.
Eshki was particularly alarming. He laid out a brief history of Iran since the 1979 revolution, highlighting the regime's acts of terrorism, hostage-taking and aggression. He ended his remarks with a seven-point plan for the Middle East. Atop the list was achieving peace between Israel and the Arabs. Second came regime-change in Iran. Also on the list were greater Arab unity, the establishment of an Arab regional military force, and a call for an independent Kurdistan to be made up of territory now belonging to Iraq, Turkey and Iran.
We only have five of the seven points here, but notice what's missing: 'Peace between Israel the Arabs' is not the same as 'Palestinian state.' Well, maybe not.
Eshki told me that no real cooperation would be possible until Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, accepted what's known as the Arab Peace Initiative to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan was first shared with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman in 2002 by Saudi Arabia's late King Abdullah, then the kingdom's crown prince.
In any event, these ties go back a long time - all the way to the beginning of the Obama administration.
These ties became more focused on Iran over the last decade, as shown by documents released by WikiLeaks in 2010. A March 19, 2009, cable quoted Israel's then-deputy director general of the foreign minister, Yacov Hadas, saying one reason for the warming of relations was that the Arabs felt Israel could advance their interests vis-a-vis Iran in Washington. "Gulf Arabs believe in Israel's role because of their perception of Israel's close relationship with the U.S. but also due to their sense that they can count on Israel against Iran," the cable said. 
Note - that was two months after Obama was inaugurated, and Netanyahu had already been elected by then and was forming a government (he was sworn in on March 31, 2009). 

Obama finally has a diplomatic achievement: A burgeoning reconciliation between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

What could go wrong?

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